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Miao Dragon Boat Festival

Miao people is one of the largest ethnic minorities in southwest China. They are mainly scattered in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan, Guangxi and Hainan. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups. The Miao people have their own language that belongs to the Miao-Yao group of the Sino-Tibetan language family.

The Han people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan. However, the Miao Dragon Boat Festival, held later in the same month, has its own origin.

It is said, once upon a time, there lived a big black dragon in the Doushui River, cruel to people living along the river. At the time, an old fisherman lived with his only son along the river. One day in the fifth lunar month, the dragon kidnapped the son fishing on the river. Hearing the news, the old fisherman, in great anger and sorrow, carrying a steel knife and kindling, dived into the dragon cave deep under the sea. Having fought with the dragon for nine days and nine nights, the old man finally chopped the dragon into three pieces, saved his son out of the dragon cave and set fire the dragon cave. Suddenly, thick smokes hung over the Doushui River where the corpse of the dragon drifted downwards. The heaven and the earth were in a state of chaos and darkness. At the time, a Miao girl came out to the riverbank to fetch water. She happened to drop her wooden ladle into the river. The girl immediately used her shoulder pole to get the ladle back. When the shoulder pole reached the ladle in the water, with a splash, the heaven became bright again all of a sudden. The darkness disappeared and the earth embraced the sunshine again.

To commemorate the heroic deeds by the old fisherman and the girl, the Miao people hold celebrations from the 24th to 27th of the fifth lunar month by organizing dragon-shaped boat rowing contests along the Doushui River.

The dragon boat made by the Miao people, unlike the one used by the Han people which is just one larger and longer boat, is in reality a body made up with three canoes bound together – one large in the middle, called mother boat or the main boat, and two small on the sides, known as son boats or boats attached. All of them are made of fir trees. On the day of the contest, every dragon boat is painted brand new and decorated with colorful flags. In each boat, the coxswain rides straddling the dragon's neck on the bow of the mother boat, beats the drum to set the pace for the oarsmen in horsetail-shaped hats, blue jackets and trousers, and embroidered waistbands pinned with silver ornaments.

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